Friday, October 17, 2008

Entitlement by Jonathan Bennett

I've been trying to think of a more suitable avenue into Jonathan Bennett's novel Entitlement than the fact while I've been sick in bed these last two days, it's been my dearest companion. But you see, as I've been sick in bed for two days, my capacity for thinkage is stunted. Which is unfortunate because as much as "the book's got plot" (a quote from Bennett, interviewed at Bookninja), Entitlement offers much more to remark on.

Interestingly, however, that the book would be so plot-driven was not so obvious until about two thirds of the way through. What hooked me from the very start was premise-- an outsider's perspective onto absolute wealth and affluence. "The rich are different from you and me." Which was, of course, a bit Fitzgerald, but also reminded me of one of my favourite paperback guilty pleasures which is A Season in Purgatory by Dominick Dunne. Except, set in Canada-- what a twist indeed for Canadian Literature. Do we even have rich people in Canada anyway?

The "outsider" is Andy Kronk, who enters private school through a chance hockey scholarship, and becomes swept up in the drama of the Aspinall family. An awkward triangle forming between Andy with the Aspinall children, Colin and Fiona. When his father dies, Andy becomes a surrogate brother, privy to the intimacies of the Apsinall world. Discovering the heightened power of the wealthy in Canada-- a country determinedly blind to class distinctions. This blindness allowing the rich to have control unchecked, without notice or acknowledgment of the extent of their reach.

This reach has been apparent to those who've tried to touch the Aspinall's before. Biographer Trudy Clarke is having trouble getting interviews for the book she is planning, and she is warned to abandon the subject altogether-- of the father, Stuart Aspinall, she is told, "He ruins people he doesn't like." However, Trudy will not be deterred. When she is granted a connection to Andy Kronk, she sees it as a prime opportunity, leaving her daughter and all other responsibilities behind to travel north to Kronk's isolated cottage. Andy proving particularly candid, for his own reasons. Bennett's multiple points of view showing both characters believing themselves fully in control, but we soon discover that neither is at all.

It is from this point on that plot takes hold, complete with twists, audible gasps (mine) and crooked cops. Clues from the beginning I hadn't even picked up on becoming significant, and this book of so many points of views taking on a cohesive shape. A race to the end, for sure, but then this is a plot-driven book written by a poet, so this isn't a guilty-pleasure either. The very best of all number of worlds and influences, and so thoroughly enjoyable. Fiction to get lost in, and once you've found your way out, there's much to reflect on about where you've been.